Headed to his third NFL team in three years, former Kansas cornerback JaCorey Shepherd is hopeful that the Pittsburgh Steelers will become a long-term landing spot.
Shepherd, who spent last season as a kick returner for San Francisco, signed with the Steelers last weekend when they were searching for depth in the secondary. Three Pittsburgh cornerbacks have been sidelined with injuries since the start of training camp.
"I just love to play so really just getting an opportunity to play anywhere is a blessing,” Shepherd told PennLive.com.
Originally a sixth-round pick in 2015 by Philadelphia, Shepherd hasn’t had much of an opportunity to showcase his skills on defense. He missed the 2015 season with an ACL tear in his knee.
Chip Kelly, the coach who drafted him, said Shepherd was on pace to become the team’s starting nickel back before his season-ending injury in his rookie year.
When Kelly was hired by the 49ers, he signed Shepherd to a contract where he returned 21 kickoffs for an average of 21.7 yards. But after Kelly was fired in San Francisco, Shepherd was released by the 49ers following the NFL Draft.
Shepherd arrived to Saint Vincent College, where the Steelers hold training camp, on Saturday afternoon after receiving a call from his agent on Friday. He is considered a long shot to make the team’s 53-man roster when the season begins, but Shepherd said the key is to “get something on film.”
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin told reporters he was unsure if the team would use Shepherd to return kicks, but the former KU defensive back wouldn’t mind.
“If I get the opportunity to show that I can do that for them,” Shepherd told PennLive.com, “then I'm going to compete and I'm going to do all I can do and show all I can do just like I plan on doing in the secondary.”
In his senior season at KU, in 2014, Shepherd recorded 30 tackles and three interceptions.
During every football season, there’s always a few players who make unexpected rises through the depth chart.
As the Kansas football team opens its fall camp Monday, players have watched their teammates progress through summer weight lifting, 7-on-7 games, individual drills and other preparations for the upcoming year.
Which players will find their way into the starting lineup and making plays on Saturday? A few KU players shared their best guesses.
Dorance Armstrong Jr., the Big 12’s preseason defensive player of the year, said the entire defensive line unit has impressed him. He’s seen some progress from 6-foot-2, 245-pound sophomore Maciah Long, who has already played several positions for the Jayhawks including quarterback.
“He’s a guy that puts in the work to learn the defensive end position because it’s not the same as linebacker and stuff,” Armstrong said. “Everybody in general is just putting in the same amount of work to be better. They know we have to be better in order to be a better team.”
When Armstrong arrived to campus for his freshman season, he was undersized but used his speed to his advantage. He said sophomore defensive end Isaiah Bean has some similarities to himself a few years ago.
“He’s a smaller guy, but his speed and his physicality, I don’t even know a word for it, is just amazing,” Armstrong said of the 6-4, 210-pound Bean. “I like his motor. He goes 100 percent every rep for everything he do.”
The Jayhawks return plenty of depth at linebacker after several injuries at the position last year. Keith Loneker Jr., a transfer from nearby Baker University, recorded 43 tackles and four pass breakups.
Loneker and Joe Dineen Jr., who sat out most of last year with a hamstring injury, are expected to be starters, but they are confident there’s plenty of options to help the team.
“We’ve got a freshmen who came in during the spring named Kyron Johnson. He can play,” Dineen said. “He’s fast, he’s strong, he’s physical. He’s going to be a good one for us.”
Dineen recognized Osaze Ogbebor, who registered 12 tackles in six games last year, as a “solid guy” who will be in line for more playing time. Dineen added that he was impressed by Dru Prox, Denzel Feaster and his younger brother Jay Dineen throughout the summer.
“I think linebacker, we’ve got a lot of depth and we’ve got a lot of guys who can make some plays,” Dineen said.
On the offensive side of the ball, there’s plenty of attention on the depth at receiver, the quarterback race between Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley, and the speed of the team’s top running backs.
But the key will be on the offensive line, which adds a year of experience from last season. Sophomore Hakeem Adeniji found himself starting as a true freshman last year and he’s confident that the unit will only continue to improve.
“I think there’s a few guys to watch: Chris Hughes, an interior guy, Antione Frazier, Malik Clark, young guys, you have Charles Baldwin, an older guy in there,” Adeniji said. “We’ve got a graduate transfer, Zach Hannon. I think we definitely have a few guys who could compete for some spots.”
After completing summer practices, Adeniji saw one under-the-radar defensive end who he expects to make a big impact.
“I think Josh Ehambe is going to be huge for us this year,” Adeniji said. “There’s a lot of attention on the other guys on the defensive line and I think he’s come the furthest of almost anybody on our team from last year. I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people.”
One of the top high school basketball players in the nation moved one year closer to playing at the collegiate level.
R.J. Barrett, who recently led Canada to a gold medal in the U19 FIBA World Cup, announced that he would reclassify to the 2018 class on Monday in a blog that he posted with USA Today Sports. He was previously the top-ranked player in the ’19 class.
The 6-foot-7, 200-pound small forward was named the FIBA World Cup MVP after averaging 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists in seven games. During a win against Team USA in the semifinals, Barrett scored 38 points on 12-of-24 shooting with 13 rebounds and five assists.
In his USA Today Sports blog, Barrett said Kansas, Arizona, Duke, Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon, Texas and UCLA have shown the most interest.
“Not too much will change with my approach to the recruitment; we’ll just do the visits a little sooner than we probably would have if I stayed in 2019,” Barrett wrote. “I haven’t set anything up yet for sure with visits, but we’ll get to that.”
After reclassifying, Barrett was ranked No. 3 by ESPN in the Class of 2018, only behind Marvin Bagley III and Zion Williamson.
Barrett, a left-hander from Mississauga, Ontario, plays high school basketball at Montverde Academy in Florida.
“Obviously, I was ranked No. 1 in the 2019 class and now that I’m moving up to 2018 my goal won’t change,” Barrett wrote. “I still want to be the best player in the class and the only way to make that happen is through hard work. We work really hard at Montverde so I know another year there won’t do anything but benefit me.”
With Barrett moving up one class, Charles Bassey, a forward from San Antonio, Texas who has received a scholarship offer from KU, will slide up to Rivals.com's No. 1 ranking.
Earlier this summer, KU coach Bill Self said the upcoming recruiting class will “probably be about as important a year as we’ve had.”
“I think we could lose five or six guys (after the 2017-18 season) so we’ve gotta sign big, we’ve gotta sign little, we’ve gotta sign point guard and tall wings,” Self said. “We need to sign a little bit of everything.”
After attempting to land a spot in the NBA during the Las Vegas Summer League, former Kansas basketball standout Perry Ellis is looking ahead to his future in Australia’s National Basketball League.
Ellis signed a contract with the Sydney Kings in May, but the club allowed him to play in the summer league because of his NBA aspirations.
Following his summer league tryout and one season in the NBA’s Developmental League, Ellis hasn't received an NBA contract offer and is moving ahead with his career overseas.
Playing for the Greensboro Swarm in the D League (recently renamed the G League because of a Gatorade sponsorship deal), Ellis averaged 9.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in 50 games last season.
"There's a lot of things you can't control but I want to play basketball as long as I can, and whatever path is met, that's the path I'm going,” Ellis told ESPN Australia. “Some other options were mentioned but nothing that was really eye-opening. Playing with Sydney seemed like the best option.”
In five summer league games with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Ellis averaged 11.2 points and 4.4 rebounds in 24.4 minutes per game. He shot 42 percent from the floor.
Ellis, who went undrafted in 2016, was a two-time all-Big 12 selection at Kansas, and ranks ninth on the all-time scoring list with 1,798 points.
According to ESPN Australia, Ellis is expected to arrive in Australia in September.
"I've heard a lot of good things about it, that it's a beautiful place, and I'm just grateful for the opportunity,” Ellis said. ”I feel like I hear a lot more about Australia than you used to hear, that more people are going there to play.”
Some of the top American players from Australia’s National Basketball League have turned a season overseas into NBA opportunities.
James Ennis, who spent last season with the Memphis Grizzlies, led his club to a NBL championship in 2014. Jordan McCrae spent a season in the NBL in 2014-15 before playing in 37 games with the Cavaliers last year.
Of course, there’s a much longer list of American players who didn’t reach the NBA after playing in Australia.
"My ultimate goal is to get to the NBA, but if it doesn't happen, it is what it is,” Ellis said. “You move on and continue playing, wherever that might be. That's my mindset.”
Frisco, Texas — It’s difficult to make up time in recruiting, but that’s exactly what Kansas football coach David Beaty and his staff had to do when he first arrived on campus.
Looking over to junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., the Big 12’s preseason defensive player of the year, at the conference’s media days Monday, Beaty said it was a “miracle” that he was suiting up for the Jayhawks.
When Beaty was hired in December 2014, he had about a month to solidify his recruiting class prior to Signing Day. Back then, Armstrong was seen as an undersized defensive end and still looking for a landing spot.
Searching for hidden gems, Beaty and his staff identified Armstrong as one of their top targets. But they were still reaching out to Armstrong much, much later than most of the schools recruiting him.
Armstrong remembered when he received text messages from former KU defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux, who is now at Oklahoma, and realized that he watched him at one of his basketball games.
“I was like, ‘He was at a basketball game?’” Armstrong said. “(Thibodeaux) motivated me so much. He spoke positive to me all the time about what I could be and just put that in my head. I think I built on everything that he told me. I just kept that mindset of being humble and always wanted more.”
Following his final prep football season, Armstrong immediately turned his attention to his basketball team. Playing in the low post for North Shore High in Houston, Armstrong averaged 7.2 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds. His school won a state championship in his junior year.
How much ground did Kansas have to make up in recruiting?
Armstrong said he didn’t have a relationship with Beaty or really anyone from Kansas before the start of his basketball season.
“I think coach Beaty came to my high school, but he came for someone else,” Armstrong said. “I didn’t remember him at the time.”
One of the things that drew Armstrong to Kansas was the chance to play defensive end.
It seems like an obvious decision now, but some schools tried to convince Armstrong, who showed up to campus weighing around 210 pounds, to move to linebacker because of his size.
“I never played linebacker,” Armstrong said. “I was always a D-end. I kind of made myself stay at that same spot.”
During one in-home visit, Kansas coaches Clint Bowen and Thibodeaux were visiting with Armstrong and his family when assistant coaches from Missouri showed up outside of the home. The KU coaches did their best to stall, forcing the Missouri coaches to wait outside.
Focused on playing throughout the basketball season, Armstrong was on a limited schedule in terms of making visits to schools.
After traveling to Kansas, he decided it was the only place he wanted to check out.
“My mom came on the visit and she loved it,” Armstrong said. “She loved the coaches. Even the players made her feel like they were going to take care of me. That’s what they were doing. We don’t bring anyone in to just leave them hanging.”
Three years later and Armstrong arrived back in his home state as the face of the Kansas football program.
“We had literally a month to recruit this kid — a month,” Beaty said. “It was difficult because Missouri came in late. Thankfully they didn’t go on that visit because it made it a little bit easier for us.”
Frisco, Texas — Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was happy to see the NCAA adopt a December signing period for football teams, but wants it to go a step further.
During the spring, the NCAA approved an early football signing period for high school recruits in December, which will run for 72 hours from Dec. 20-22. Those dates coincide with first three days of the midyear JUCO signing period.
For players who don't utilize the early signing period, the usual National Signing Day will remain on the first Wednesday in February, which will land on Feb. 7 for Class of 2018 recruits.
“I would suggest that we still have a lot of work to do there,” Bowlsby said at Big 12 Media Days at Ford Center. “We have data that indicates that about 70 percent of the Division I football prospects make their decision before the 1st of October and really would like to get the recruitment process over with.”
Instead of a formal signing day, Bowlsby mentioned recruiting windows, which he suggested teams could issue letters of intent and players have 14 days to sign it.
One of the statistics that Bowlsby cited was the average FBS team issues 233 oral offers to players, though only 25 players can sign per recruiting class.
“I'm not sure that a signing date is exactly what we need in today's environment,” Bowlsby said. “I have asked coaches, athletic directors, conference commissioners repeatedly over the last 12 months why we have a signing date…. The only answer I've ever gotten is because we've always had a signing date.”
Of course, there’s always potential pitfalls with an earlier recruiting window, which include coaching changes and cause-and-effect problems.
But Bowlsby said his main motivation for a new signing period system is a more genuine recruiting process.
“There's a lot of disingenuousness in the system, and I think we need to try to clean that up as much as we possibly can,” Bowlsby said. “It seems to me that maybe a signing window might be the answer to it, but we have a lot more work to do on it, and I wouldn't presume to say how it's going to turn out at this point.”
TCU coach Gary Patterson said it would be difficult to move signing dates to the beginning of the football season because coaches would have limited time for evaluations, along with time to work on their current team.
"All the mistakes that everybody's talking about right now with players, kids want to decommit, well, a lot of it is because they get talked into going to a place they don't know anything about," Patterson said. "They just read the name, and they really don't fit in. We've got to get back to kids going to our campus and see if they like the coaches, see if they like everything."
Preparing for the upcoming high school football season, the Times-Picayune created a countdown of the top 20 players in the New Orleans metro area, and two Kansas commits made the list.
In fact, both of the KU commits — Corione Harris and Anthony Williams — were selected in the Top 5.
Harris, a four-star cornerback from Landry Walker High, was ranked No. 2 in the countdown. The Times-Picayune noted his stellar defense in the playoffs last season against Terrace Marshall, the nation’s third-ranked wide receiver in the Class of 2018.
“Harris was one of the top cornerbacks in the state drawing each teams’ top receiver,” wrote Amos Morale III, of the Times-Picayune. “He was instrumental in making the Landry-Walker secondary one of the state's most difficult to play against.”
Harris is expected to play quarterback, along with cornerback, in his senior season at Landry Walker, which is looking to repeat as state champions. One of his top targets will be fellow KU commit Devonta Jason, a five-star receiver. Jason was not ranked in the Times-Picayune’s countdown.
Starting last weekend, Harris played in Nike’s The Opening, a premier 7-on-7 event in Oregon.
Along with Harris, running back “Pooka” Williams was ranked fourth. From Hahnville High, Williams runs past defenses with his elite-level speed and strong vision.
Last season, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Williams led the New Orleans area with 26 touchdowns in the regular season, which included 1,831 yards on offense.
“Williams, who has been clocked running a 4.27 in the 40-yard dash, now has three years under his belt and that experience will help him take that next step in 2017,” Julie Boudwin wrote for the Times-Picayune. “The Tigers will also be starting four 300-pounders on the offensive line which will open up the running lanes for Williams, a Kansas commit.”
KU’s fourth Louisiana commit, defensive end Josh Smith, didn’t make the Times-Picayune’s rankings.
The No. 1 player in the countdown, receiver Ja’Marr Chase, de-committed from Kansas in February, about a week after announcing his commitment. He’s expected to choose between TCU and LSU on Monday afternoon.
With the college basketball offseason in full swing, and teams preparing for their overseas trips to play exhibition games, it’s time to take a look at all of the roster changes.
In the Big 12, the early predictions for next season have Kansas winning another conference title, West Virginia giving KU the biggest challenge and Texas emerging as a sleeper pick following a strong recruiting class.
Here’s a look at all of the incoming and outgoing players in the Big 12:
In: Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett, Malik Newman, Jack Whitman, Sam Cunliffe (eligible to play in December)
Out: Frank Mason III, Landen Lucas, Josh Jackson, Carlton Bragg, Dwight Coleby
In three of the past five seasons, the school that lost the national player of the year didn’t make it to the NCAA Tournament in the following year. Of course, the Jayhawks will feel the losses of Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson, but it’s pretty remarkable they remain odds-on favorites to capture another Big 12 title.
Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman is expected to contend for the team’s leading scorer, while freshman Billy Preston, one of the conference's three McDonald's All-Americans, will compete for a spot in the starting lineup. But the best news of the offseason for KU was the return of senior Devonte Graham and a now-healthy Udoka Azubuike.
In: Tristan Clark, Leonard Allen
Out: Johnathan Motley, Ishamil Wainright, Al Freeman
After reaching a No. 1 ranking in the middle of the season and exiting in the Sweet 16, Baylor will attempt to reload following the loss of standout forward Johnathan Motley, who wasn’t picked in the NBA Draft.
Coach Scott Drew can still rely on point guard Manu Lecomte and center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., and the incoming recruiting class includes four-star forward Tristan Clark, who led his high school to the state championship game. But like most programs who lose one of the top players in the country, it’s hard to avoid a step back in the following season.
In: Lindell Wigginton, Terrence Lewis, Hans Brase, Jeff Beverly
Out: Monte Morris, Deonte Burton, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas, Merrill Holden, Darrell Bowie
Many of Iowa State's familiar faces from the past few years have finally graduated, and the Cyclones lost their top four scorers. Perhaps no team in the Big 12 lost more talent once the season ended.
Coach Steve Prohm will enter rebuilding mode with five-star point guard Lindell Wigginton, who was teammates with KU’s Billy Preston at Oak Hill Academy, and four-star forward Terrence Lewis out of Milwaukee. Graduate transfer Hans Brase, from Princeton, played against the Jayhawks in the World University Games for Germany (six points and six rebounds).
In: Levi Stockard III, Nigel Shadd, Mike McGuirl, Makol Mawien, Amaad Wainright, Mawdo Sallah
Out: Wesley Iwundu, D.J. Johnson, Carlbe Ervin II, Isaiah Maurice
Despite losing leading scorer Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State returns four of its top six scorers from last season. It didn’t help that Isaiah Maurice was dismissed from the team earlier this month, but the Wildcats have a foundation to keep progressing from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad.
Among the newcomers, there’s three transfers and three players from high school. Levi Stockard, a 6-foot-8 forward, led Vashon High to its second straight Class 4 Missouri state title. Amaad Wainright, younger brother of Baylor’s Ish Wainright, averaged 14 points at a junior college in Texas.
In: Trae Young, Brady Manek, Hannes Polla, Ty Lazenby
Out: Jordan Woodard, Darrion Strong-Moore
In a fierce recruiting battle, the Sooners beat out a few blue bloods, including Kansas, for hometown point guard Trae Young. He’s surrounded by a strong group of guards including Kameron McGusty, Rashard Odomes and Christian James.
Oklahoma will likely go as far as Young can take them after he averaged 44 points per game at nearby Norman North High. Jordan Woodard is the toughest loss (14.6 points per game), but the fact that the Sooners return so much of their team can only help them try to return to the NCAA Tournament.
In: Zack Dawson, Kendall Smith, Yankuba Sima (December)
Out: Phil Forte III, Leyton Hammonds, Jawun Evans
After building momentum last season, winning nine of their final 12 games in the conference and suffering a one-point loss to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, the Cowboys will be rebuilding after coach Brad Underwood departed for Illinois.
Oklahoma State lost three of its top four scorers, including second-round NBA draft pick Jawun Evans, and will learn to play under its new coach, Mike Boynton. Among the newcomers, the Cowboys picked up two transfers, Kendall Smith (CSUN) and Yankuba Sima (St. John’s), and four-star guard Zack Dawson.
In: Kevin Samuel, RJ Nembhard, Lat Mayen, Shawn Olden, Ahmed Hamdy
Out: Brandon Parrish, Michael Williams, Karviar Shepherd, Chris Washburn
Under first-year coach Jamie Dixon, the Horned Frogs made a strong push at the end of last season, including a Big 12 Tournament win over Kansas, and won the NIT. If that wasn’t already a good sign, TCU brings back its top six scorers from last year.
TCU will have to replace some depth with the loss of a few seniors, but there’s a solid group of newcomers that should compete for playing time. Ahmed Hamdy is a graduate transfer from VCU where he averaged five points per game.
In: Mo Bamba, Matt Coleman, Jericho Sims, Jase Febres, Royce Hamm Jr., Dylan Osetkowski
Out: Shaquille Cleare, Kendal Yancy, Jarrett Allen, Tevin Mack
One of the popular picks to surprise teams next winter after Shaka Smart secured a strong recruiting class, highlighted by Mo Bamba, a top-five player in the nation, and Matt Coleman, a true point guard that the team lacked last season. Bamba was in the news this week when his brother accused him of accepting cash and gifts, though Texas released a statement saying, "the NCAA has not informed us of any pending issues or eligibility concerns at this time."
The Longhorns lost some of their inside presence when Shaquille Cleare graduated and Jarrett Allen went to the NBA. But they received good news when Andrew Jones announced he would return for another season. He averaged 11.4 points last season, the school’s top returning scorer.
In: Malik Ondigo, Jarett Culver, Daniel Mading, Zhaire Smith, Tommy Hamilton IV, Brandone Francis, Davide Moretti, Josh Webster, Hyron Edwards
Out: Anthony Livingston, Aaron Ross, Devon Thomas, Matthew Temple
Texas Tech returns its only double-digit scorers from last season, Keenan Evans and Zach Smith, but coach Chris Beard will infuse a large group of newcomers to the rotation. That includes Depaul transfer Tommy Hamilton IV and Florida transfer Brandone Francis, who both sat out all of last season. Hamilton averaged 8.6 points and 5.5 boards in his junior year at Depaul.
The Red Raiders lost several close games in last year’s 18-14 campaign and should receive a boost from their mix of returners and newcomers. Newcomer Davide Moretti starred in Italy, playing for the u18 and u20 national teams.
In: Brandon Knapper, Derek Culver, Teddy Allen, D’Angelo Hunter, Wesley Harris
Out: Tarik Phillip, Nathan Adrian, Teyvon Myers, Brandon Watkins, Elijah Macon
It wasn’t unexpected, but West Virginia received good news in the offseason when Jevon Carter announced he was going to return for his senior season. He briefly tested the waters for the NBA Draft. That meant the Mountaineers return their top two scorers, including Esa Ahmad, and a perfect fit for their full-court pressure defense.
West Virginia lost three key contributors: Tarik Phillip, Nathan Adrian and Elijah Macon, but there’s confidence younger players and the newcomers can step up into key positions. However, the Mountaineers’ top incoming recruit, Derek Culver, hasn’t arrived on campus yet. Coach Bob Huggins said he’s awaiting a test score to determine his eligibility.
It’s been several years since Aqib Talib and Chris Harris suited up for the Kansas football team, but they continue to make a big impact for the Jayhawks.
Both Harris and Talib remain actively involved with their alma mater. Harris attended KU's spring football game in April. Two weeks later, Talib went to the team’s meet-and-greet event in Dallas.
On the recruiting trail, the pair of cornerbacks have helped shape an image of KU as one of the top places to develop defensive backs. And their play in the Denver Broncos secondary last season only strengthened that notion.
Talib, entering his 10th season in the NFL, had one of his most consistent years in the Broncos secondary. He grabbed three interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, and had 12 pass deflections.
“Aqib Talib has always had the potential to be the game’s best cornerback, but in the past, we have only ever seen it in flashes, or for brief stretches before he lapsed and we saw him surrender big plays,” Pro Football Focus wrote. “2016 was the first year he put it all together, and went the entire year without surrendering a touchdown.”
Pro Football Focus noted Talib didn’t allow a catch longer than 26 yards last year. Plus, quarterbacks had trouble completing short passes against him.
“Talib allowed just 53.0 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught, for a passer rating of only 49.5, and for much of the year, quarterbacks were statistically better off just throwing the ball away than they were testing Talib in coverage,” PFF wrote.
Harris, who has been ranked as high as No. 4 by PFF in his career, had another all-pro season where he recorded two interceptions, 11 pass deflections and 57 tackles.
Entering his seventh year with the Broncos, Harris, an undrafted free agent out of KU, continues to make the most of his opportunities when the ball is thrown in his direction.
“Harris allowed an average of only 8.9 yards per reception in 2016, and 126 total yards after the catch, despite being targeted 84 times," PFF wrote.
Harris combined with Talib, and the rest of Denver's secondary, for the top passing defense in the league (185.8 yards per game).
According to PFF, Harris had 28 defensive stops, which was two more than any other cornerback.
Even with all of these all-pro distinctions, Harris doesn’t need to look far to find more motivation for next season.
In a vote from their peers, conducted by the NFL Network, Talib was ranked as the 37th-best player in the league and Harris was 63rd. When Harris was asked by Denver reporters about his ranking, he laughed.
“Just adds more fuel to the fire,” Harris told the Denver Post. “I might be the only first-team all-pro that didn’t make it into the top 50 probably. But, no, I need something like that. Getting all these awards and accolades and things, I guess it’s good to have one thing that keeps me motivated.”
At the beginning of the second round of Thursday’s NBA Draft, Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac was fielding calls about potential trades for his team's next pick.
Divac gave the offers some thought, but Frank Mason III was still available and he was a player that the Kings coveted.
By the time the Kings went on the clock with the 34th overall selection, there was no hesitation that Mason was going to be their pick.
“I felt first of all, honestly, that he wasn’t going to be available,” Divac said. “But at 34, it was easy. No-brainer to pick him.”
Mason, the consensus national player of the year, was the first player in Big 12 history to average more than 20 points and five assists per game.
He worked out twice for the Kings, including a pre-draft visit last week (making it memorable when he met a young fan through social media). That workout only reinforced the beliefs from Sacramento executives that he was a great fit for their young, rebuilding team.
On a team that started the draft without a point guard, the Kings added Mason and Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox with the fifth overall pick.
“Especially the second time, he showed us what we saw in the first (workout),” Divac said. “We just felt confident that’s the guy. He can play right now. We felt very confident when we made a choice to pick him at 34.”
Second-round picks aren’t guaranteed to land on a team’s roster by the time the season begins at the end of October, but Divac’s “he can play right now” endorsement shows how much confidence the Kings have in Mason.
“If Frank wasn’t there, we were thinking about doing some stuff,” Divac said, referring to trade rumors.
After celebrating his selection at a draft party, Mason wrote on Twitter, “Thanks for believing in me @SacramentoKings, I promise you won't regret it.”
In his first day as a member of the Kings, Mason was greeted with cheers at the airport and attended a draft rally in the city alongside all of Sacramento’s draftees — Fox, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles.
Even as a second-round pick, there’s many people who believe Mason will carve out a role in the NBA for a long time.
“Look, he may be small and he may have issues as far as finishing at the rim, but he’s got a good floater,” Jay Bilas said on ESPN’s draft broadcast. “There’s no way he fails in the NBA. He’s too tough. He’s proven that over the course of four years at Kansas.
“I’m a huge fan of Frank Mason. He’s small but his heart is gigantic; no way does he fail.”